South Carolina nabs women’s NCAA Tournament top seed; Iowa, USC, Texas get other No. 1 seeds – The Athletic

By Ben Pickman3h ago

As the women’s NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed Sunday night, there was little uncertainty about who would be the field’s top seed. South Carolina, the SEC’s regular-season and conference tournament champion, is looking to become only the 10th team to complete an undefeated campaign with a national title.

But as the other pairings and seedings were unveiled, there was plenty of intrigue found throughout the bracket. Iowa, USC and Texas were named the other three No. 1 seeds.

Each will look to top the Gamecocks, who enter March Madness having won all 32 of their games. This year’s group has an entirely new starting lineup from the South Carolina team that also entered last year’s NCAA Tournament undefeated, but the current iteration sports an offensive and defensive rating that ranks top two nationally.

Advertisement

Coach Dawn Staley has relied on her roster’s depth, with five players averaging double-figure scoring and nine averaging double-digit minutes. Senior center Kamilla Cardoso, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-SEC selection, has been central to their success on both ends. Cardoso, however, will miss South Carolina’s first NCAA Tournament game after being ejected for fighting late in its SEC tournament championship victory over LSU.

The Gamecocks are looking to advance to their fourth consecutive Final Four, and a national title victory would be their second in three years.

The Trojans and Longhorns, both of whom won their conference tournaments, would have their Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in Portland, Ore., if they advance out of the first weekend. The Hawkeyes, who won the Big Ten tournament title, and the Gamecocks will continue to play in Albany, N.Y., if they move out of the second round.

Unlike the men’s NCAA Tournament, for the second consecutive year, the women’s tournament will use only two host cities for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds, though the top seeds in each are slotted into different sides of the bracket. The sides of the draw are determined by their regional final location and a number, 1, 2, 3 or 4.

For more on the bracket reveal and the women’s NCAA Tournament, follow The Athletic’s live blog.

For a printable women’s March Madness bracket, click here.

Albany 1 Matchups:

  • No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 16 Sacred Heart/Presbyterian
  • No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Michigan State
  • No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 13 Fairfield
  • No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast
  • No. 3 Oregon State vs. No. 14 Eastern Washington
  • No. 6 Nebraska vs. No. 11 Texas A&M
  • No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 15 Kent State
  • No. 7 Ole Miss vs. No. 10 Marquette

Albany 2 Matchups:

  • No. 1 Iowa vs. No. 16 Holy Cross/UT Martin
  • No. 8 West Virginia vs. No. 9 Princeton
  • No. 4 Kansas State vs. No. 13 Portland
  • No. 5 Colorado vs. No. 12 Drake
  • No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 Rice
  • No. 6 Louisville vs. No. 11 Middle Tennessee
  • No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 15 California Baptist
  • No. 7 Creighton vs. No. 10 UNLV

The 2024-24 regular season was full of thrilling performances and notable milestones. Iowa star Caitlin Clark broke the women’s Big Ten, NCAA and major-college career scoring records. She also passed former LSU star Pete Maravich for the most points in Division I history, men’s or women’s. Throughout the season, fans flocked to Hawkeyes’ games, many of whom basked in Clarkmania. Thirty of their 32 regular-season games sold out or set an attendance record for women’s basketball games.

Advertisement

Television ratings for Iowa games additionally set records, as Clark and Iowa competed in the most-watched women’s basketball game ever on six different networks.

The Hawkeyes will play the winner of UT-Martin and Holy Cross’ First Four game.

Interest, though, in women’s college basketball has extended beyond Clark and Iowa. ESPN said the 2024-24 regular season was its most-watched since 2008-09, with the ACC Network and SEC Network each seeing their best women’s college basketball regular-season ratings on record. USC, the No. 1 seed in the Portland 3 region, is led by star guard JuJu Watkins, who averaged 27 points per game — second-best in the nation — and was named the conference’s Freshman of the Year. Texas, meanwhile, won the Big-12 tournament and is led by star freshman Madison Booker, who earned the conference’s Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year.

GO DEEPER

Caitlin Clark, Cameron Brink, JuJu Watkins headline The Athletic women’s basketball All-America teams

Portland 3 Matchups:

  • No. 1 USC vs. No. 16 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
  • No. 8 vs. Kansas vs. No. 9 Michigan
  • No. 4 Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 Marshall
  • No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 12 Vanderbilt/Columbia
  • No. 3 UConn vs. 14 Jackson State
  • No. 6 Syracuse vs. No. 11 Auburn/Arizona
  • No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Maine
  • No. 7 Duke vs. No. 10 Richmond

Portland 4 Matchups:

  • No. 1 Texas vs. No. 16 Drexel
  • No. 8 Alabama vs. No. 9 Florida State
  • No. 4 Gonzaga vs. No. 13 UC Irvine
  • No. 5 Utah vs. No. 12 South Dakota State
  • No. 3 NC State vs. No. 14 Chattanooga
  • No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 11 Green Bay
  • No. 2 Stanford vs. No. 15 Norfolk State
  • No. 7 Iowa State vs. No. 10 Maryland

Final Four contenders

LSU, the defending national champion, aims to become the first repeat winner since 2016. The Tigers received a No. 3 seed in the Albany 2 region. They are one of eight teams to make the field from the SEC. Eight ACC schools are in, with Notre Dame ranked the highest from the conference, as a No. 2 seed in the Albany 1 region.

Those programs highlight a list of just some of the legitimate Final Four contenders in this year’s field. Although South Carolina ranked No. 6 in the preseason, it assumed the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll and never relinquished it, while six different schools were ranked No. 2 at some point throughout the year. UConn was among those, ranking second entering the season. However, the Huskies battled injuries throughout the season and have had five players suffer season-ending injuries. After their 14-year Final Four appearance streak snapped last March, UConn, a No. 3 seed, will look to begin a new run coming out of the Portland 3 Region.

Advertisement

What about Stanford?

Stanford was thought to be in contention for a No. 1 seed but ended up as the No. 2 seed in the Portland 4 region (headlined by Texas). Like some great Cardinal teams of the past, Stanford is built from the inside out.

Forward Cameron Brink, the projected No. 2 pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft, averages 17.8 points, 12.0 rebounds and a nation-leading 3.5 blocks per game, while forward Kiki Iriafen is perhaps the country’s most-improved player this year averaging 18.6 points and 11.0 rebounds per contest.

Most stacked region

The most stacked region appears to be the Albany 2 region, where Iowa will have to go through either Ivy League tournament champion Princeton or West Virginia in the second round, before potentially facing Kansas State (who beat the Hawkeyes in Iowa City) or Colorado to reach the regional final. There, they could face either an experienced UCLA group or last year’s national champions LSU in a rematch of the 2024 title game.

Those schools all found themselves in the field of 68, however. Miami, Villanova, Washington State and Penn State highlight a list of programs viewed on the bubble that did not make the NCAA Tournament.

What else to watch

Last year’s opening rounds featured some surprising results. In 2024, Stanford’s loss to Ole Miss marked the first time a No. 1 seed failed to make the Sweet 16 since 2009. Indiana’s loss to Miami in the Sweet 16 marked the first time since 1998 that two No. 1 seeds failed to reach the Elite Eight. It wouldn’t be surprising if there were more unexpected upsets this year.

“The game has grown so much that really anybody, like any program, can make it to the Final Four because of the parity of our game,” Staley said before last spring’s national semifinal in Dallas.

GO DEEPER

Bracket chaos: Why the women’s NCAA Tournament will see more upsets this year

All roads this year will lead to Cleveland, Ohio, the site of the 2024 Final Four. The city last hosted the national semifinals and national championship in 2007, when Tennessee, led by Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt, defeated Rutgers for the title. This year’s championship will air on ABC for the second consecutive season and the second time ever. The event drew 9.9 million viewers in 2024 and marked the most people to watch a men’s or women’s college event on ESPN+.

Advertisement

Injuries, again, could factor into some programs’ success. Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley, Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes and UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards are among the key participants for each respective program who missed either all or part of conference tournament action.

The women’s tournament officially begins on March 20 with the First Four. It will conclude on April 7.

“I think our group knows well enough that the NCAA Tournament is the best postseason tournament in all of sports,” Clark said after her team’s overtime Big Ten tournament title victory over Nebraska. “If you don’t have it for one night, your season’s over in the blink of an eye. We’re really only guaranteed one more game as a team, so you’ve got to come in and prepare every single day like it’s your last.”

GO DEEPER

Like Steph and Jimmer before her, Caitlin Clark is a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience

(Photo: Eakin Howard / Getty Images)

Get all-access to exclusive stories.

Subscribe to The Athletic for in-depth coverage of your favorite players, teams, leagues and clubs. Try a week on us.

Start Free Trial

Ben Pickman is a staff writer for The Athletic covering the WNBA and women’s college basketball. Previously, he was a writer at Sports Illustrated where he primarily covered women’s basketball and the NBA. He has also worked at CNN Sports and the Wisconsin Center for Journalism Ethics. Follow Ben on Twitter @benpickman

Source

×